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From first-responders to workers and leaders, every single job contains elements of stress. Alfred Ricci, founder of First Responder Resilience, created his own methodology for introducing mindfulness and resilience into day-to-day work life. In this episode, we explore the importance of paying attention to your own mindset and to your team members’ mental states to improve focus and situational awareness, ultimately improving safety. Learn how to implement mindfulness and resilience to improve productivity and safety performance!
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Real leaders leave a legacy. They capture the hearts and minds of their teams. Their origin story puts the safety and well-being of their people first. Great companies ubiquitously have safe yet productive operations. For those companies, safety is an investment, not a cost for the C-Suite. It’s a real topic of daily focus. This is The Safety Guru with your host, Eric Michrowski, a globally recognized Ops and The Safety Guru public speaker and author. Are you ready to leave a safety legacy? Your legacy success story begins now.
Your legacy success story begins now.
Hi and welcome to The Safety Guru. My name is Eric Michrowski and today I’m very excited to have with me Alfred Ricci. Alfred has spent many years working across a business, industries rising from the ashes, and more recently he’s worked in a lot of high stress environments, particularly around first responders now working with one of the larger health care networks in the U.S. and brings a lot of incredibly important reflections and insights really on this topic of focus, which is so critical to safety outcomes.
How we’re going to talk more about this today. We’ll talk a little bit about mindfulness and resilience and how they link back to focus on the workplace and avoiding injuries. Alfred, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me on and for the work that you’re doing.
Absolutely. So, Alfred, maybe you share a little bit about your background and how you came about working with first responders and really seeing some of those point around focus.
Probably the most important point is when I was in consulting, they would say work through the stress or during my MBA where they tried to describe, if you’re stressed, you’re doing things correctly. But then I realized the quality of work that was being produced. While your stress really wasn’t very good working until one o’clock in the morning when you’re stressed out of your mind wasn’t very productive. We were there were a lot of mistakes. It was inaccurate. We were basically we’re incapable of thinking clearly.
And after I left corporate and started learning about mindfulness and resilience, one of the most important teachings is if you take a break and take a step back, you’re able to see things more clearly. You’re able to see different results, look at things from different perspective than if you didn’t pick your head up. So, by taking a break, by reducing your stress, by doing these mindfulness and resilience exercises, you’re able to come up with different solutions. Better solutions have higher quality because you can pay more attention to what’s in front of you.
And it sounds so simple, but when I simplify safety, at the end of the day, I often say that you need three things, three ingredients to be successful. It’s not that complicated. One of them is you need to have good quality methods, procedures, protective equipment, etc. Second one is you need to have people accepting doing those, following those rules, those processes when nobody’s watching in. The third one is you need to have focus and attention on the job in front of you.
Right. And that’s exactly what you’re talking about, is that last element. And too few people come up with answers and solutions of how you do this.
Yeah, and that’s what keeps me in business, is I have created a methodology that did not exist. I did not learn this in books. This is through my own experience of how-to bring mindfulness and resilience practices into the workplace. It is a documented methodology that I bring in and leave with every client, and that comes from my consulting background of working in methodology.
So, tell me a little bit more about how people can increase focus. You touched on it very briefly in terms of taking a step back. Concretely, what does that look like to increase that level of focus?
OK, so there’s two parts of the methodology. The first is, are you being mindful? What does it mean to be mindful? That means is something bothering you. Are you stressed? Are you not able to focus? Do you understand that you should really pay attention to weight? And it’s not just paying attention to what’s in front of you, but am I in a peaceful or we’re clear space and am I focusing completely on what is in front of me?
That is where the highest per. Activity, the highest safety, the highest quality comes from when you’re doing one thing at a time, the opposite is multitasking. There are many studies on multitasking that show the decreases in productivity, the decreases in quality, the mistakes that happen. So, but we take a different twist on multitasking. Multitasking. Is not that just you’re doing multiple things, but something could have happened to you, whether it’s a half hour ago, yesterday, last week, a year, five years ago, you could be triggered, you could be knocked sideways, and you’re bringing that past event into your future?
So now you just don’t have what’s in front of you, like the patient or the customer that you’re serving. You have this trigger that reminds you of what happened in all of a sudden, you become emotional. It’s a similar type of multitasking where you’re dealing with multiple things, except it may be a trauma, a trigger, a button that really knocks you sideways. And mindfulness is am I focusing on one thing or am I mindful? Wait, hold on. Something’s bugging me. I need to go take care of that before I can completely focus on what is in front of me, not multitask, and just focus on the client, the issue, the product, whatever it is that I’m doing in the moment. So, the first mindset that we like to teach is, are you being mindful or is it that you’re multitasking? Is it that something is bothering you?
That’s the first thing to be aware of is wait. Hold on. Where is the stress coming from? Am I stressed? The second part is the resilience practice and resilience are. Hold on, wait a second. This thing that happened to me, that’s bugging me, that triggered me, that pushed my button, really pissed me off, aggravated me, knocked me sideways, made me emotional, made me stressed. I’m going to use some resilience exercises to let it go to deal with it so that in it could be anywhere from 30 seconds to just a couple of minutes.
We’re not talking about a huge amount of time here that the more you practice these things, you could literally clear yourself, be peaceful in a minute, half a minute to say I’m going to be resilient of the thing that happened so that I can be mindful, which is focused on what is in front of me in the moment. So they work hand in hand and that’s the first part is being aware that these tools are available.
And so first one, I think is very commonly shared in pop psychology. They sometimes refer to this concept of seven units. You’re able to process seven units of information, a given point in time, which could be my foot hurts, my back hurts as well as I’m not sure what’s happening financially with covid as an example to do I have symptoms of something so you can easily be distracted by a lot of other things that makes good sense in terms of being in the moment now, understanding those drivers.
Can you share maybe a little bit about some of those techniques, tools that can help from a resilient standpoint? What are some of the activities or exercises that somebody can practice to be at peace with the moment?
I’m sure the part about resilience, the resilience exercise means I’m resilient to what’s happening around me. There’s a lot of things that happen that stress people out. And my work with first responders is basically their job is to deal with an enormous amount of stress. Every single thing that they do, every single client that they serve, they’re in a very stressful environment. Now, this can be implied to, for example, executives that I was where you’re dealing with extremely difficult negotiations or lots of money or extreme deadlines and everybody around you is stressed.
Everybody around you is going crazy. How do you keep your focus? How do you be mindful? Those are the resilience exercises. So, for example, one of the exercises that we have is there’s only one person in the world you can fix. The truth is, because you’re the only person that you can change your mind, change your emotions, make peaceful, make calm when you try to as they teach us an MBA school, coordinate everything around you, fix everything around you in that.
While you’re actually creating an enormous amount of stress on yourself because you’re trying to fix or change other people, well, in the resilience practices we say you can suggest you can try to do your best, but don’t have an expectation that what you’re going to do and want to do to coordinate to other people is going to happen. If you have an expectation that somebody is going to change and follow your direction, they don’t. You make yourself more aggravated. Like, wait, hold on a second. We have there’s Peter Drucker. OK, have you heard of Ben Affleck, a very, very famous management. Yes. I have a direct quote from his that says, as a leader, your job is first and foremost to take control of your own emotions. Then go be a leader, then go do what you need to do in terms of your job or your position or to coordinate. And we’re not taught that in graduate school or anywhere in corporate that the focus is on you first being resilient.
And we call that the airplane air mask, where if the plane is, you know, something’s happening. What do they say? Put your mask on first. Right. Then put the air mask on the person that you’re taking care of. And that is a completely different way to go about coordinating things in a stressful environment, regardless of what whether it’s corporate, regardless of its first responders or hospitals. Pretty much everybody has a stressful job. Right.
The resilient one of the most important aspects of resilience to achieve mindfulness is take care of your own well-being, your own emotional state. Make sure you are calm first, then go do what you need to do.
I think that’s very, very good advice. And I think the elements around resilience and the reason we’re talking about it, you’re you’ve done a lot of work with first responders like you talked about it. There are high levels of stress in that environment. Stress and competing priorities that are dealing in front of you are the ones we talked about before. The biggest predictor of somebody making a mistake is I may know the right way to do it. I may have everything I need.
But if I don’t have the attention on the task in front, that’s where problems can occur. One organization shared a story about how a team member one day walked around. She had been evicted the night before from her own home, and she was about to operate some incredibly dangerous equipment in front of her. In a case like this, that incredibly risky proposition, what are some of the tools, techniques that leaders can have to reinforce that as well within their teams to check in to see where people are at?
So in the practice, it’s not the first and foremost as a leader to recognize if you have a team member that is stressed, OK, is to recognize to say hold on the opposite of what I learned, which is work through the stress is to say, hold on, please recognize if you have somebody stressed, if somebody gets knocked sideways, if somebody is crying and you don’t understand why pull them off. It’s not worth the mistake that the customer service problems, the decrease in quality, the potential mistakes, it’s not worth it.
Pull them aside. That’s first and foremost, that’s what we teach our leaders, is to recognize the symptoms. Of course, we try to have everybody recognize the symptoms, but as a leader to recognize it. And number two, it’s not the leader’s job to fix the person. It’s for the leader to say, hey, there are these practices that you can use to calm down, such as if something really knocks you sideways, go for a five-minute walk.
I’m giving you permission right now. Go outside, go stare at a tree. Go take your shoes off. Go walk on the grass. Now, we talked about this. Some people might think that’s woo. And I’m telling you, flat out with an NBA background and serious corporate experience, I wish to God so many times somebody told me to take a five minute break because it’s you cannot comprehend the difference if you just simply take a couple of minutes and practice the exercises and the examples that I’m going to be giving more of throughout this, to say that two or five minute investment in that person as a leader versus.
Creating a mistake. How long is that mistake going to take to fix, how much money is it going to take to fix decrease in customer service, decrease in ratings, possibly legal issues because the person made a mistake now going out, spending five minutes walking around. Hmm. What’s the R.O.I? Why your return on investment for investing five minutes? All of a sudden you decrease risk, you improve quality, you improve customer service, you seriously decrease the potential of a mistake.
Right. How much do these five minutes really cost you? Right. So, if you look at it from an ROI perspective, that five minutes is really valuable.
Agreed. And so that’s an area the example I shared, the reason it came about was because the leader demonstrated active care. They were walking around checking in with everybody, how’s your day going? And just really caring about what happened in that person’s life, which is how this got unpacked. And so I think that’s a key element, is the leader doesn’t need to try to change people. The leader just needs to be aware of how people are showing up.
And then you can equip the leader, but also the team member in terms of an understanding of where they’re at and what they can do.
Correct? Yeah, and the mindfulness and resilience practices we try to give not just at the leadership level, but also on the front line where they’re going to be using them. For example, I have a doorway exercise where people on the front lines in the E.R. or whatever type of first responder they’re going from patient to patient or emergency to emergency. And I say, OK, when you leave one patient or one situation and you’re passing a doorway, stop, take 30 seconds, and let go of what happened.
You did your best job, right? You serve that person the best that you could. Hopefully everything works out great. Gather your energy. Let it go now as you continue walking through the doorway, you’re mindful of the next one, you’ve let go of what happened and now you can completely focus on the person or situation or whatever it is in front of you, 30 seconds invested, which is nothing in a day, but tangible practical application that can help create capacity and increase the degree of focus you’ve got the next day.
And speaking of that intervention, I think this is the same one where you’ve been able to demonstrate that by introducing this from a training standpoint, that patient safety, improved customer relations, improved quality of the work being done, got better collaboration between people, got better productivity, obviously increase even if people are taking loss of 30 second breaks and ultimately burnout, sick days, absenteeism, essentially a well-rounded intervention that that drove real, tangible results.
Correct. And I’m going to give you something small and something big. So, the small one was I was a caregiver, and someone was in long term care. The nurse came in and says, OK, here’s the pills while we looked at the pills and said, these aren’t the right pills. Oh, dear. And you could tell the nurse was visibly burnt out. Did that nurse have the skills to say, wait a second, I’m burnt out before I continue doing something that may affect somebody’s life?
I need to take a little bit of a break, practice some resilience exercises. Calm down. Before doing something serious, like prescribing medications she didn’t have that we luckily caught it. But the investment in teaching not just the leaders, but the front-line people that provide customer service with these skills is insignificant compared to avoiding a mistake like prescribing incorrect medication.
Absolutely. And we even had a guest on the show a couple of months back who shared some research around health care worker in the current pandemic and how much more Thinly staff there are. And the impact on stress while being very tight turns between chefs all can have a catastrophic impact.
So, I’m going to talk about investment ROI from a burnout perspective, a fantastic student of mine who was just available, senior level director level position at a hospital. Many people beneath her, her husband died. It traumatized her for years. She was telling me about how many times she would cry during meetings. During our first two meetings, she was crying all the time. She was completely burnt out and she would tell me, I just thought I was going to be like this for the rest of my life.
Her accuracy, her leadership was diminished because of something that had absolutely nothing to do with work. She went through a trauma of losing her husband. Her ability to function as a high value leader was diminished because she had an enormous amount of stress within two months of me being there to walk her and teach her through these exercises to say, OK, this is how you let go, this is how you let go of your husband. This is how you become resilient and understand that it’s OK.
It’s fine. Move on with your life. She’s a different person now. We’re talking about a very high value asset in terms of that organization. OK, so you can look at it in several different ways. How many people does she deal with on a daily basis? She has many people underneath her that look to her as a leader that are now affected positively because she’s now a positive leader. OK, if it had gone any further, she was on the verge of burning out.
The replacement cost of replacing a senior leader is one hundred and fifty percent, usually on average of annual salary. OK, you’ve got training costs, you’ve got the cost of replacement. You’ve got disruption of leadership versus bringing in and teaching these skills is such a tiny fraction of the cost of the potential problems of not teaching leadership. What how to be resilient to not just that, not just the stress on the workplace, but stress that happens. Like you said, somebody got evicted that had nothing to do with her work, but it could seriously affect her work.
So, the resilience practices teach people to say, I need to deal with life, so my life doesn’t come into my work. And, I need to know how to deal with work, so it doesn’t follow me into my family life, all of a sudden by these practices, their family life becomes better and then all of a sudden, they’re happier because their family lives are better. This anybody who thinks this stuff is who I really want you to consider the return on investment of what happens because you bring these principles in by, as you were saying, patient safety increases, quality improves, reducing burnout, reducing sick days, reducing absenteeism, the big one, reducing turnover, all very tangible returns on investment.
So how do you get leaders to buy in? Obviously, return on investment is a big, big component. And I guess the flip side is how do you get frontline team members to embrace and start using some of the tools that you talk about?
I actually liked the approach that we just recently took, which is we started at a senior level management and said, you guys take this course. The overall director said, take this course and you people tell me whether this stuff is valuable or not. You people tell me whether you recommend that we should roll it out the front-line people. And they did. And the survey results were fan tactic when we surveyed. Did we deliver on these claims that you and I are talking about in terms of quality, in terms of customer service, in terms of safety?
Did I actually deliver? Those results were fantastic. We’re now rolling it out because senior management experienced. Sure. The methodology that was the difference is I didn’t sell anything. I said, let’s do a tiny rollout. You experience it and you guys tell me whether you think it’s valuable. I’m not going to sell you a single thing that I could not have agreed more with their decision to try it, to test it. And because now they’ve experienced it themselves and now, they’re behind it.
From a senior management level, top-down implementation. Right.
Which is the best way to proceed. So that’s a great way as an introduction. And then how do you get the team members to embrace it? Obviously, if the leaders are embracing it, you’re more likely to to have team members embrace it. But are there any best practices you’ve seen on that front?
Yeah, so we take this my methodology is two parts, one to roll it out, the leadership first and once leadership has the high-level overview to take a manager and her team and to do the entire workshop with the manager and her team. So, the manager who’s aware of the methodology, it can say, hey, Susie, you had this issue. And I’m not the one who’s leading the class half the time where the manager becomes involved in using very concrete real-life situations to say, Susie, in that situation, you could have used this specific tool.
And the methodology goes from a general methodology to something extremely specific that they begin using as a team and seeing how to use the tools as a team. One of the selling points, increased teamwork. Right. But not just that, but they help each other figure out how to apply the tools to their specific work situation. So that’s the second level is bringing the manager and working with their team in a workshop.
Excellent. Well, Alfred, thank you very much for sharing your ideas around your work with first responders. I think the whole theme of mindfulness, resilience and how it impacts our ability to focus on the task at hand to deliver better outcomes. Very, very rich, powerful topic area. And I really appreciate you sharing from all your various interventions, all the various work you’ve done and making it into very concrete activities.
Eric, thank you very much for having me on. I sincerely appreciate it. I’m honored to be part of the work that you’re doing. And again, I think what you’re doing is so needed in the workplace, and I’m grateful to be part of that.
Thank you so much, Alfred.
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ABOUT THE GUEST
Alfred is a keynote speaker, workshop leader, and founder of First Responder Resilience, with 10+ years of experience teaching workshops on personal development, mindfulness, and resilience to first responders and others working in stressful work environments. Alfred used mindfulness and resilience practices to conquer suicidal thoughts while managing the massive stress of corporate work in over 20 countries. His mission is to share the necessary skills to thrive in traumatic work environments.
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